Booker T & the MGs and the Memphis-Soul Sound

mgs2.jpgBooker T. & the MGs were/are the originators of the Memphis soul sound and the house band on many Stax/Volt hits, they became one of the most respected and imitated bands of the mid 1960s. The group forged a soulful sound and backed many of the greatest soul and rhythm & blues musicians of the era, including Otis Redding, Sam & Dave, Wilson Picket, Albert King and many others. March Madness has started and our Bracket has Memphis winning it all. In honor of that, today Impossible City will do a focus on the true Originators of the Memphis-Soul Sound: Booker T & the MGs.

The selection today has the core group still intact, featuring Steve Cropper on guitar, Duck Dunn on bass and Al Jackson, Jr. on drums, augmenting Booker T.‘s distinctive organ. Together, they created one of the most influential sounds of the era.

Towards the latter part of the 1970s, Cropper, Dunn and Jackson would form the backbone of The Blues Brothers, gaining wider exposure than ever before; the recording below from a decade earlier show the band to be not only highly original in their own right, but also quite capable of taking popular hits of the day and revamping them into their own infectious style.

The late show from June 8, 1968 again finds the band in great form, but with less of a focus on cover material, in a set featuring several of the group’s classic original compositions. The covers they do perform display a wide range of material, from the pop confection of the Association’s “Never My Love” to Aretha Franklin‘s soulful arrangement of “Sweet, Sweet Baby.” The group also performs a slow blues number by James Brown, as well as the rock staple “Hey Joe,” immortalized by Jimi Hendrix. Some of the band’s best original material is featured in this set, including Steve Cropper’s “Knock On Wood,” “Booker T.’s “Booker Lou,” as well as two of their biggest most influential hits, “Hip Hug-Her” and “Green Onions.”

In all these performances, it is Booker T.’s massive organ sound that is the focal-point, but it is the accompaniment provided by Cropper, Dunn and Jackson that truly propels the music. The group does not rely on any flash or gimmicks, rather sticking to a seasoned sense of style that is the epitome of taste and technique. Steve Cropper’s economical guitar playing is particularly impressive, always enhancing the groove-heavy Memphis soul.

As the band is vamping away on “Hip Hug-Her,” the 8th track, Booker T. announces that famed bluesman Albert King is in the house, and invites him up to the stage. Booker T. & the MG’s were Albert King’s backing band on studio recordings, so the musicians already knew what was up and had plenty of experience playing together. This is immediately apparent as they play incendiary versions of “Born Under A Bad Sign” and “Overhaul Junction.” Albert’s biting guitar tone and sizzling technique bring an already great set to an iconic level. They close the set with an exceptional take on “The Sky Is Crying” which is cut in two parts, due to a reel change. Reel change?? What’s that? What is here, however, is full of fire and absolutely kicks some ass.

This is truly a historical performance, capturing both The MGs and Albert King at the top of their game. The second half of this set, beginning with “Green Onions” is one of the most unforgettable and exciting performances ever to grace the stage of Winterland in the 1960s; that’s saying a lot!

Booker T. Jones – organ
Donald “Duck” Dunn – bass
Alan Jackson, Jr. – drums
Steve Cropper – guitar
Guest: Albert King – guitar

San Francisco, CA
June 8, 1968
Late Show

Never My Love / (Sweet, Sweet Baby) Since You’ve Been Gone / I Don’t Mind / Knock on Wood / Booker-loo / Hey Joe / Green Onions / Hip Hug-Her / Born Under a Bad Sign / Overall Junction / The Sky is Crying (part 1) / The Sky is Crying (part 2)

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